The Gift of Rejection
Shared Heart Column
Heartfulness February 2019
with Joyce and Barry Vissell
“The Gift of Rejection”
Rejection can hurt. Perhaps a person can be rejected by a friend, partner, boss, sibling, parent, co-worker, someone you work out with at the gym, or even your grown child. Scientists are discovering that the hurt of rejection can be actually recorded within your body.
My first memory of rejection was when I was thirteen years old. I went to a local elementary school that was a block from my home in Buffalo, New York. It was a small school and all of the students could walk to the school. It was in the lower middle class side of town. All of the students were friendly and the only thing that really mattered was that a person was nice to others. None of us had expensive clothes or houses. We had just enough, but nothing of excess.
When we graduated from this sweet elementary school, we had to be bused three miles to a very expensive part of Buffalo called Amherst. This was the wealthiest school in the whole area. Those of us from little Windermere Elementary didn’t really fit in this expensive place because of our simple clothes and humble beginnings. But we did not know this, since it never mattered before. In my first year at Amherst, I was taking home economics and we were sewing. One day, all of the sewing machines were busy and I had hand sewing to do. I noticed a group of girls on the other side of the room talking and laughing. I thought to myself, “They look like they are having fun. I’ll walk over and join them.” I didn’t notice at the time that all of these girls were dressed in very expensive clothes. In my elementary school anyone could join a group and be welcomed. Clothes never mattered. I walked over with my sewing in hand. When I got there, the girls looked at me in an unfriendly way. I innocently asked, “Is it OK if I join you?” I was surprised when they answered, “NO! We are the popular group. Just go back to where you came.” I stood there stunned as my face reddened and tears came to my eyes. They repeated their words, “Go on back to the other side of the room.” Deeply embarrassed, I turned, walked back to the other side of the room, and sat by myself, the pain of rejection coursing through my body.
It took several years for me to realize the gift that those girls actually gave me. The pain of that rejection strengthened in me a commitment to always be on the lookout for someone that might be feeling left out, and to try to include them. Ever since that day, I have not wanted to join anything that might be exclusive to others. In college I was invited to join several sororities. I refused them, even the most popular one that other freshmen women wished they could join. This desire to not exclude anyone has served us very well in our work.
My beloved graduate teacher and friend, Leo Buscaglia, showed me a beautiful model of how to handle rejection. I was sitting outside of his office one day at the University of Southern California waiting to speak with him. He was meeting with the Dean of Students and other important faculty members. I could hear every word. They were telling him that his free class, Love, was an embarrassment to the university, and ordered him to cancel the class. This was the class that Leo enjoyed teaching the most, and it was so popular that, even though it was held in a very large room, it was always filled to overflowing. I attended this class every week and enjoyed it so much, and to this day use what he taught us. In a final statement the Dean said, “Leo, this class must stop right now. There will be no more discussion about it.” And with that, they all walked out of the room.
I waited a few minutes and his secretary told me I could go in to see Leo. I asked him how he was doing and he replied, “I feel so sorry for those people, for I have so much love to give and they have rejected it.” That rejection gave Leo the push to leave his secure position at the university, and serve a much larger population. He eventually became the most popular speaker in the U.S., traveling from city to city, speaking to sold out groups of at least ten to fifteen thousand each time. He had five books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time, an honor no other author has ever had. That rejection certainly brought a great gift to Leo and the many millions who benefitted from his talks, books, and a hugging revolution that swept the country.
In our counseling practice, we see people who are suffering so much from the rejection by a partner. Besides helping them over the pain and loss of self-esteem, we ask them to wait for the gift that surely will come. In time they return and tell us that they have found a new partner who is so much better suited for them.
And there are countless stories of people who are rejected by their boss and lose their job. In time, many of them also go on to find something that really ignites their passion.
When you feel this pain of rejection, know that a great gift will eventually come to you. Like Leo Buscaglia, know that you did not deserve to be rejected, that you are beautiful and have so much love and gifts to give. At age thirteen, I did not deserve to be rejected in such a cruel way, yet that rejection gave me a more compassionate heart and the sensitivity to include everyone.